Rulon Gardner

Rulon Gardner on returning to wrestling training, getting his gold medal back

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NEW YORK — Rulon Gardner said he’s lost a little weight, but there’s still plenty of work ahead. He’d like to live to 80 years old, start a family and get his Olympic gold medal back.

In 2000, Gardner pulled off one of the great upsets in Olympic history, dethroning chiseled Russian Aleksander Karelin in the Greco-Roman super heavyweight wrestling final. Karelin, the three-time defending Olympic champion, hadn’t lost in international competition in 13 years nor given up a point in six.

Gardner since lost the middle toe on his right foot due to frostbite after being stranded in a 2002 snowmobile accident in his native Wyoming. He lived through a motorcycle accident and plane crash.

He went on “The Biggest Loser” at 474 pounds and attempted to lose more than 200 pounds to make weight for the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials at age 40. He reportedly said he got down to 280, missing the Olympic heavyweight limit of 264.5 and gained about 100 pounds back by June 2014, according to the Deseret News.

Since the Olympic trials, Gardner filed for bankrupty and parted with his 2000 Olympic gold medal and 2004 Olympic bronze medal among many other possessions.

On Thursday, Gardner dressed in a suit and tie to cover USA Wrestling’s “Beat the Streets” against Cuba in Times Square for NBCSN. He was stopped for autographs and pictures, unmistakable for he looked bigger than any of the wrestlers competing.

Gardner spoke with OlympicTalk before the meet:

OlympicTalk: You said during the winter you were doing wrestling training again to get back in shape and, last summer, that you would possibly go for the 2016 Olympic trials. How’s that going?

Gardner: I’m still going with, actually, a real good coach from Central High School in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a guy named Drew Severen [the school’s football coach]. I’ve been working out with him, training with him, kind of day-in, day-out, when I have time.

OlympicTalk: How many hours per day?

Gardner: I’m about an hour and a half. If I’m going to try to get back into healthy shape, wrestling shape, you’ve got to spend a good probably three to five hours a day in the wrestling room. Getting that time is hard to do, but if you’re going to get in shape and be a good wrestler, you’ve got to put the time in. Being an Olympic champion, I know I weigh too much now. I’ve got to get healthier and get my weight down.

OlympicTalk: What inspired you to return to wrestling training?

Gardner: I’m 43 years old now, and if I’m going to live to, hopefully, be 80 years old, I’ve got to get healthy. My wife [who has experience as a fitness and weight-loss instructor], she inspired me to work hard and get my weight down. We want to have a family. So, ultimately, for me to be around, and to stay on this earth for long enough, to have a family, I’ve got to get my weight down. So those are probably the biggest inspirations. But then ultimately, to be looked upon by youth wrestlers and that kind of stuff. I need to be a good ambassador of the sport. You’ve got to look the part of a wrestler, and you’ve got to act the part.

OlympicTalk: How realistic is it that you can make it to the Olympic trials?

Gardner: I just took a new position at my job. It’s still a thought out there. I don’t know how realistic it is at this point. At some point, you’ve got to take your career and run with it. If I don’t get on the mat to compete to win, I want to get on the mat to be healthy. At the end of the day, winning the Olympics is something that’s not even in my ideals. But to be healthy enough to make weight for the Olympics is really what I’m after most of all. If I ever did get [my weight] down, and I was able to spend the time and do it, I’d love to go to the Olympic trials. I don’t know if I’d be able to compete and win them, but I’d like to be able to at least be healthy enough to get there.

OlympicTalk: Have you lost weight? What do you weigh now?

Gardner: I’ve lost a little bit of weight, but most of my focus has been with my work. I’m a medical device rep, so I’m in the OR. I’m helping doctors. In a day, I’ll have like four or five surgeries. So you’re getting up at 4 a.m., doing cases all day and then coming back at night, you’re missing wrestling practice. You’ve got to have that discipline. Winter time, being in Wyoming, you don’t ever want to go outside for a run. Summer time, it’s always easier to get out and exercise, and I love being outside. I’ve started doing more of that, more of the running and the jogging. I’ve just got to be healthier and more active.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you saw or spoke to Karelin?

Gardner: In Beijing [at the 2008 Olympics]. He actually was right in front of me for the whole 20 days of the Olympics [both doing TV work]. So I saw him every day. Just the intimidation factor of him walking in. We did an interview, and it was classic because even though he’s from Russia, he’s so smart, he’s so eloquent in everything he does. He speaks six languages. He was joking with us.

OlympicTalk: Jordan Burroughs is trying to repeat as Olympic champion with strong domestic competition, similar to what you went through in 2004. What do you think of him?

Gardner: I think he’s doing the right thing. He’s looking forward. He’s not looking back. Because once you start looking to see who’s biting at your heels, you start slowing down your acceleration. That’s the one thing about Jordan. I don’t think he’s ever taken the foot off the accelerator.

OlympicTalk: Do you still have your amputated toe?

Gardner: I actually have it in a bottle of formaldehyde. I have that in my refrigerator. People kind of get disgusted. They’re like, why do you have it? You know what, it’s a great reminder of me being irresponsible and foolish and stupid because I made a mistake. I didn’t have my correct gear. I wasn’t prepared to be in the mountains. When I look about being stupid and making bad decisions, I look at my toe, and it reminds me.

OlympicTalk: Are you trying to get your gold medal back?

Gardner: It was actually saved by an individual who actually had helped me out when I was on “The Biggest Loser.” He still has it. If I get another $20,000, I’ll have my gold medal back.

OlympicTalk: How much do you want it?

Gardner: I’m not complete without it. Everybody’s like, oh, the gold medal, it’s his only thing that matters. I have a lot of things that matter to me. I don’t have my Olympic rings and stuff. They sold those, but I don’t care about that stuff. The gold medal, that’s something that was really special to me because of who I beat.

OlympicTalk: You’ve given speeches to schools and kids. What’s the overall message?

Gardner: I talk about seven steps that I utilized in my life to overcome obstacles. I had a learning disability. I wasn’t supposed to go to college. I wasn’t supposed to go and graduate [he did, from Nebraska]. I wasn’t even supposed to go to the Olympics. I finally made the Olympic team in 2000, won the gold medal and accomplished that goal. I’ve continued to learn and gone through adversity. What do you do? You get back up. You have a bad test. You lose an athletic event. These young athletes, you get knocked down. What do you do? You get back up. Life is about obstacles and opportunity. For me, I looked at the match with Karelin as being an opportunity to reach my pinnacle. Some people might have thought about it as an obstacle for success. I thought it was an opportunity, turned it into a positive, won the match and won the Olympics. That’s all about how you perceive life. A lot of kids don’t believe in themselves. That’s the worst thing you can ever do.

Photos: U.S.-Cuba wrestling in Times Square

Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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Gwendolyn Berry gets apology from USOPC CEO after reprimand for podium gesture

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Olympic hammer thrower Gwendolyn Berry said USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland apologized to her Wednesday “for not understanding the severity of the impact her decisions had on me,” after Berry was put on probation last August for one year after raising her fist at the end of the national anthem at the 2019 Pan American Games.

“I am grateful to Gwen for her time and her honesty last night,” Hirshland said in a statement. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”

Berry and fencer Race Imboden were sent August letters of reprimand by Hirshland, along with each receiving probation, after each made a podium gesture at Pan Ams in Peru.

This week, Berry tweeted that she wanted a public apology from Hirshland. That tweet came after Hirshland sent a letter to U.S. athletes on Monday night, condemning “systemic inequality that disproportionately impacts Black Americans in the United States.”

Then on Wednesday night, Berry said she had a “really productive” 40-minute phone call with Hirshland, USATF CEO Max Siegel and other USATF officials.

“I didn’t necessarily ask for [an apology] from [Hirshland],” Berry said Thursday. Berry said she lost two-thirds of her income after Pan Ams, that sponsors dropped her in connection to the raised fist fallout.

“We came to some good conclusions,” Berry said of the group call. “The most important thing were figuring out ways to move forward. [Hirshland] was aware of things that she did and how she made me feel about the situation, and I was happy that I was able to express to her my grievances and she was able to express to me how she felt as well about the situation.”

Berry said her probation, which is believed to still be in effect, wasn’t discussed. She made a point to say that USATF has always been on her side.

“The conversation was more for awareness purposes, and we’ll probably have more conversations this week,” said Berry.

Berry also plans to participate in a U.S. athlete town hall Friday.

“First and foremost, we should and we will discuss how people are just feeling and how people are holding up because athletes in general, because of the pandemic and because of everything that’s been going on, I know a lot of people are in distress, they’re sad, they’re confused,” she said. “I think that’ll be the main point of the discussion. Just to make sure everybody’s OK. Just to see how everybody’s holding on.”

On Aug. 10, Berry raised her fist at the end of the national anthem after winning the Pan American Games title.

The next morning, Berry said the gesture, which drew memories of Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Games, wasn’t meant to be a big message, but it quickly became a national story.

“Just a testament to everything I’ve been through in the past year, and everything the country has been through this past year,” she said then. “A lot of things need to be done and said and changed. I’m not trying to start a political war or act like I’m miss-know-it-all or anything like that. I just know America can do better.”

Berry said then that the motivation behind her gesture included the challenges overcome of changing coaches and moving from Oxford, Miss., where her family resides, to Houston.

“Every individual person has their own views of things that are going on,” she said. “It’s in the Constitution, freedom of speech. I have a right to feel what I want to feel. It’s no disrespect at all to the country. I want to make that very clear. If anything, I’m doing it out of love and respect for people in the country.”

Berry also said that weekend, according to USA Today, that she was standing for “extreme injustice.”

“Somebody has to talk about the things that are too uncomfortable to talk about. Somebody has to stand for all of the injustices that are going on in America and a president who’s making it worse,” Berry said, according to that report. “It’s too important to not say something. Something has to be said. If nothing is said, nothing will be done, and nothing will be fixed, and nothing will be changed.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report.

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